Under the leadership of Japanese coach Keisuke Honda, the Cambodian Under-22 men’s football team has been ensconced in their Singapore training camp since March 20. The team are preparing for the Merlion Cup tournament, their last major chance for a hit out ahead of the SEA Games.

However, of the players who completed the previous camp in Thailand with dreams of Singaporean glory, six failed to make the final step.

Visakha FC’s star striker Sa Thy was eliminated due to injury, and was unable to go on training for the upcoming 32nd SEA Games, to be held for the first time on the Kingdom’s home soil.

“I have not been able to train with the team since the Thailand camp,” he wrote on social media. “Why has such bad luck befallen me.”

His fellow striker, the short but nimble Ean Pisey from Svay Rieng FC, is also consoling himself, after missing out on the most important opportunity of his career for the second time.

He made the final squad of 20 at the 31st SEA Games in Vietnam, but was injured before playing a match, sent home and replaced by Narong Kakada.

This time, he failed to make the cut.

“At long as my feet are on the grass, I will not give up on my dream. I know what I want, and if I don’t strive to achieve it, I will not get there. The main thing is to keep smiling and keep trying. If an opportunity offers itself, I must be prepared to seize it,” he said.

Defenders Vang Davin of Boeung Ket, Im Vakhim of Soltilo Angkor, Ry Leap Pheng of Svay Rieng and midfielder Tep Fillip of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) FC also missed out on selection for the final squad, after completing the Thai training camp.

The 24 players in Singapore with manager Honda are goalkeepers Koy Salim, Reth Lyheng and Vireak Dara. Defenders Chhum Sokhay, Keut Pich, Chan Sara Pich, Leng Nora, Sar Ratana, Ny Sokry, Sophal Dimanche, Soeuth Nava, Taing Bun Chhay, Chea Sok Meng and Phat Sokha are also in camp, along with midfielders Sin Sovann Makara, Nhean Sosidan, Chou Senti, Min Ratanak and Lim Arun Rey Min.

Strikers Lim Pisoth, Sieng Chanthea, Voeun Va, Kirina and Hav Soknet make up the rest of the squad.

The team will face their first Merlion Cup opponents on March 24, when they meet Malaysia at the Jalan Besar Stadium. Hosts Singapore will meet Hong Kong on the same day, with the two winning sides qualifying for the March 26 final. The losing teams will meet – for a chance to claim third place – on the same day. BTV Cambodia has secured the live broadcasting rights to the cup, providing a chance for punters to examine the form of three of three of the teams that will meet at the SEA Games.

Although Hong Kong is not an ASEAN member, and therefore will not compete at the SEA Games, the U22 teams of Cambodia, Singapore and Malaysia will certainly look to use the cup as an opportunity to judge one another’s strengths and weaknesses ahead of the games.

The men’s football tournament at the 32nd SEA Games kicks off on April 29. Pools have not yet been drawn to determine the match order of the 11 participating teams.